The daughter of divorced parents, Carmen has always depended on her mother, Christina, and her three best friends to be her family. Although she loves her father, Albert, her relationship with him is fragile, and Carmen is afraid to be honest with him about how she feels, fearing that any conflict will drive him away. She’s proud of her Puerto Rican side, as well as her curvy body, but spending the summer with Albert’s new family makes her feel like an outsider. Lydia, Krista, and Paul are all very white and blond, and Carmen stands out with her dark skin and full figure. Terrified of telling Albert how hurt she is that he has replaced her and Christina with a new family, she instead acts rude and difficult, almost daring the new family to dislike her. When she throws a rock through the kitchen window while the family is eating dinner, she is making a desperate attempt to communicate all the things she stubbornly denies feeling: hurt, betrayal, anger, and shame. These childish acts of defiance make Carmen feel bad about herself, and she often wishes she could act less like a brat and more like a mature adult.
Loving and devoted to her friends, Carmen is the most introspective of the four girls, always struggling to figure out where she fits, what she feels, and how to strengthen the girls’ friendship so that it lasts forever. She is the voice that begins and ends the novel, explaining the girls’ history of being friends and telling readers about how the Pants came into their lives. Although all the girls value their friendship, Carmen is the girl who is most aware of how fragile friendship can be, especially during the growing-up years when boys, college, and separation are on the horizon. Because she understands the preciousness of their friendship, she leads readers into the story and helps us understand that preciousness too.
Sarcastic and judgmental, Tibby approaches her summer at Wallman’s as she approaches life in general: she expects to be miserable, and she assumes everyone around her is ridiculous. Tibby has a nose ring and former-hippie parents, and she views the world through skeptical, wary eyes. She has always had a unique outlook on life, especially since she attends an “alternative” school and has been with her parents through various careers, including organic farming. Tibby’s wariness and skepticism don’t stop her from being a loyal, devoted friend. She loves her friends and is a source of stability for them. They rely on her to take their side no matter what, and Tibby proves infinitely willing to condemn the whole world if it’ll make her friends feel better. She may judge others harshly, but she never judges her friends—no matter what they do. Although Tibby is disappointed to spend the summer alone in Bethesda, she doesn’t just sit around moping. Instead, she turns her experiences into art by making a documentary in which she records the perceived utter boredom and inanity of her hometown.
When Tibby meets Bailey, she looks no further than Bailey’s very young age and annoying persistence, certain that Bailey is just a pest to be ignored and tossed aside. However, Tibby’s usual dismissiveness is challenged when she finds out that Bailey has cancer. Tibby eventually opens up to Bailey, finding a true friend. She realizes that Bailey has a lot to teach her about compassion, openness, and happiness, and she learns from Bailey how to see what’s inside of people who may, on the outside, look like losers or fools. Tibby ultimately gains a new perspective on life, and she is more willing to live her life fully, opening herself up to others in a way she hasn’t done before.
Beautiful Lena has spent her life being “beautiful Lena.” Because she is so accustomed to people seeing only her looks, she has learned to keep her true self tightly wrapped inside. Shy, quiet, and self-conscious, Lena has difficulty connecting to people, and she happily stands in the shadow of Effie, her warmer, more openhearted sister. Lena’s reticence does not suggest that she is dull or cold, however. Inside, she is passionate, loyal, and deeply loving, as she demonstrates in her relationships with the girls. Lena wishes she could open up to others, and she envies people like Effie who are willing to risk falling in love. But she has kept her true self hidden for so long that exposing it seems impossible. When she meets Kostos, she doesn’t think twice about dismissing him as she dismisses every other boy she meets, certain that he is the same as all the others: attracted to her looks and nothing more. In a way, Lena has created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because she is certain no one will see beyond her looks, she hides her inner self, ensuring that no one does see beyond her looks.
Lena learns a valuable lesson about the necessity of taking risks when she tumbles into a conflict with Kostos. When he accidentally sees her skinny-dipping, Lena assumes he was spying, and she storms off in a huff, not bothering to correct her grandparents when they misread her anger and think Kostos attacked her. Rather than tell the truth—and, in the process, get to know Kostos a little better—Lena stays silent, allowing the conflict to escalate into a fight between the grandfathers and ensuring that Kostos stops trying to talk to her. However, when Lena gets what she wants—for Kostos to leave her alone—she realizes how she really feels about him. As her time in Greece comes to an end, she thinks deeply about love, and she understands that she must take a risk. For the first time, she bares her soul. Doing so not only wins her Kostos but also lets her feel pride in herself.
Free-spirited Bridget is more confident, courageous, and daring than all her friends put together, and she hurtles through life on high spirits and adventure. With energy to spare, Bridget loves playing soccer, and she excels at it, winning the respect of her teammates and sometimes the frustration of her coach, who recognizes Bridget’s potential but also her tendency to show off. Bridget hates being indoors, preferring to spend all of her time outside doing something physical, such as running or swimming. She never slows down—and she has the enormous appetite appropriate to such an active person. Bridget applies that same energy and enthusiasm to her romantic pursuits. She knows she’s attractive to men, and that attention gives her a high. In the rare cases when someone tells Bridget “no,” she takes it as encouragement to try harder. Bridget is the kind of girl who won’t stop until she gets what she wants.
Beneath all this energy, determination, and verve, however, is a girl who has lost her mother and who, at times, feels very much alone. Readers don’t know exactly what happened to Bridget’s mother, other than that her death was connected to “bad depression” and was probably a suicide. Bridget fills her life to the brim with excitement and activity, never giving herself time to stop and reflect. She keeps herself afloat because she doesn’t have any opportunity to sink. Good decisions and bad decisions pile up on top of one another, and Bridget isn’t the sort to consider the wisdom or consequences of her actions before she plows ahead. The result of her headstrong way of living is trouble handling the consequences of her actions. When she does get Eric, for instance, and finally stops to think about what she’s done, she can’t handle the reality and retreats to her bed. Bridget’s highs are very high, but her lows are very low. In the low times, she relies on her friends to support her and remind her that she will never be alone.